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Contemporary art

Western art


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Deana Lawson

1979 -


“Imagine a goddess. Envision a queen. Her skin is dark, her hair is black. Anointed with Jergens lotion, she possesses a spectacular beauty. Around her lovely wrist winds a simple silver band, like two rivers meeting at a delta. Her curves are ideal, her eyes narrowed and severe; the fingers of her right hand signal an army, prepared to follow wherever she leads. Is this the goddess of fertility? Of wisdom? War? No doubt she’s divine—we have only to look at her to see that. Yet what is a goddess doing here, before these thin net curtains? What relation can she possibly have to that cheap metal radiator, the chipped baseboards, the wonky plastic blinds? Where is her kingdom, her palace, her worshippers? Has there been some kind of mistake?...
… Outside a Lawson portrait you might be working three jobs, just keeping your head above water, struggling. But inside her frame you are beautiful, imperious, unbroken, unfallen.”

- Zadie Smith on Lawson’s Sharon 2007

The subjects in Deana Lawson’s photographs command attention and control the scene. While they may have been photographed in their own domestic interiors, these figures are not the subjects of candid, informal snapshots. They know they are being looked at, and they meet our gaze. The spaces they inhabit are the landscapes of the everyday – living rooms, corridors, gardens – but in Lawson’s work they appear elevated. This elevation is not achieved through any discernable narrative context but is engineered through of the assertive presence of each room’s occupants. Lawson photographs the African diaspora, from New York to Jamaica, Haiti, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and allows the protagonists in her images to claim and celebrate their own bodies and identities.

There is an sharply political undertone to Lawson’s work, but one that is not driven or determined by sloganeering. This is a politics of visibility and valorization. Lawson doesn’t simply document, she mythologises.




Media category


Materials used

pigment print




101.6 x 129.5 cm


Purchased with funds provided by the Davies Family Foundation 2018


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Deana Lawson

Works in the collection


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

  • Here we are, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 24 Aug 2019–13 Oct 2019